Here at Raybin & Weissman, we have gotten several calls from people who have loved ones in Tennessee jails or prisons. Understandably, people are very worried about infection from COVID-19, also known as coronavirus. However, an inmate’s eligibility for release depends on their current situation and location. Not everyone is even eligible for early release. Here are the different categories:
In county jail awaiting trial
Anyone in jail who has not yet had a trial or pled guilty can get out if they can afford the bail bond set by the judge. Unfortunately, many people cannot afford this amount. During the pandemic, many judges and DAs have been working with defense attorneys to lower and even eliminate bonds for certain inmates, depending on the severity of the pending charges and the person’s risk factors. For help, talk to the attorney representing the person about lowering the bond.
In county jail after conviction
If a person has already been convicted at trial or pled guilty and is in a county jail (NOT state prison), the judge continues to have jurisdiction to suspend the person’s jail sentence to probation. This depends heavily on the individual circumstances. The best person to talk to is the lawyer who represented the inmate since they will be most familiar with the situation.
In state prison awaiting next parole hearing
If a person is serving a sentence in a state prison, there is no direct way to get them out or move up the parole hearing, even if they are high risk. The only option is a commutation from the Governor. You can contact Governor Lee’s office directly for more guidance on how his office is handling such requests.
In state prison after parole granted
If an inmate has been granted parole pending completion of classes or other programming, Parole Board has the discretion to modify the conditions to allow them to parole now and complete similar programming on the outside. The Parole Board has committed to evaluate people in this situation automatically and has already expedited release for several individuals. The inmate can talk to his or her IPO for additional information.
In federal prison after conviction
There is a process for federal convictions (but not state convictions) called “compassionate release.” It is possible to gain some relief if the inmate is considered high risk and there are positive tests on other inmates. The inmate should contact the warden’s office, or the original defense attorney from the underlying case.